Grosjean's predicament also had the consequential effect of moving Alonso from the uneven to the even starting side of the grid. The peculiarities of the Circuit of the Americas, newly created for this event, were such that the uneven side of the track was considered to be more slippery and therefore more difficult to get a satisfactory getaway from. Team calculations suggested that this disadvantage might mean the surrender of as much as 2 places at the start of the race. Desperate times called for hard nosed cunning.
The only way for Ferrari to improve Alonso's grid placing and also to move him to the advantageous side of the track was to effectively shunt Massa aside.
They achieved this before the race by blatantly taking advantage of a F1 rule designed to curb expenditure on equipment during the course of the season. The rule states:
Each driver may use no more than one gearbox for five consecutive events. Every unscheduled gearbox change will require the driver to drop five places on the grid at that meeting. Every subsequent unscheduled gearbox change will require the driver to drop five places on the grid.
Following the letter but not the spirit of the regulation, Ferrari broke a seal on Massa's gearbox and thereafter changed his gearbox. This action attracted the 5 place FIA penalty for Massa, moving him down to 11th on the grid and elevating Alonso by one place to 7th and onto the faster uneven numbered side of the track. Massa was screwed but Ferrari's 'higher goal' was achieved. Ingenious.
Massa 'generously' accepted this. It was apparently a team decision. What choice did Massa have in reality? In other Grand Prix previously he has moved aside to allow Alonso to pass at a crucial moment, following 'team orders'. He is seen as the inferior and supportive team mate, unthreatening to the team leader and there to do a job for the team. His 'acceptance' on this occasion almost certainly guaranteed his Ferrari drive for next season in spite of being consistently outperformed by Alonso, and by a considerable margin for the past 2 seasons.
Was Ferrari's move legal? Yes. It was within the rules and it was done openly. It does not compare with Benetton's deliberate and highly dangerous crashing of Nelson Piquet Jnr's car at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008, an outrageous and much vilified manoeuvre designed to achieve a safety car deployment for the benefit of Alonso (again - although he was unaware of the ploy). Ferrari's action was however highly cynical. It was a ploy taken from the 'win at all costs playbook'. Greg Chappell would have heartily approved. We should not applaud.
The consequence of this manoeuvre was that in transferring Alonso up the grid and across the track they caused other competitors to find themselves shifted in the opposite direction. So Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Senna now found themselves disadvantaged on the slippery starting side.
What would have happened if other teams had pulled similar stunts? The integrity of the race would have been shot to pieces. Was it anyway? This is not the same as F1 teams' constant probing for the slightest technical advantage on the edges of the rules. This was not within the spirit of the game. Unfortunately no such rule exists in F1 and the regulation was not drawn tightly enough.
Ferrari were able to profit because they have the resources to not to bat an eyelid at the damaging of and changing of a gearbox. Other more cash strapped competitors might not have the same possibilities. The rulebook needs revising swiftly. There is no sporting glory in this.
Fortunately for Ferrari and F1 none of the 'big boys' was shunted across the track. Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren took a sanguine approach, but Ferrari's move did not affect McLaren and they did go on to win the race through Lewis Hamilton. He mused
"Sadly it didn't impact on us at all - we were on the slow side of the grid and stayed on it - but if I had earned a place on the fast side of the grid and that had put me on to the slow side I would have been pretty exercised about it."